What is Osteoporosis?

Published by Steve Hedberg on September 7, 2009 Under arthritis

Osteoporosis is a type of bone disorder that results in very brittle bones, which are prone to breaking. Osteoporosis results from a loss of calcium in the bones, which causes them to become more brittle, fracturing very easily. In many cases, even a low impact fall can result in a fracture.

Who can Get Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is much more common among the elderly, specifically among females. However people of any age and sex can get osteoporsis.

By the age of 75, one in five women will have fractured their hip. Spinal fractures are also common, which can be very painful and result in decreased height and a great deal of pain, as well as causing the spine to become deformed.

Relationship Between Calcium and Osteoporosis

Since osteoporosis can be so serious, it is very important to maintain a healthy daily intake of calcium. This will help to prevent or reduce the risk of osteoporosis, which is essential to remaining healthy.

The amount of calcium that an individual should receive everyday varies by age and it is best to get calcium from eating calcium rich foods, such as milk. However, there are many other foods that are high in calcium, such as almonds, broccoli, pinto beans, and salmon, so it is not necessary to solely rely upon milk products for your daily calcium.

While it is best to eat foods that contain calcium, it is also possible to take dietary supplements that contain calcium. This is usually referred to as supplemental calcium and can consist of calcium carbonate, calcium caltrate, calcium citratem, or calcium lactate. Most store brand calcium supplements consist of calcium lactate, which contains the least amount of calcium per volume.

For men and women over the age of fifty, it is recommended to have a daily intake of at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium.

Exercise and Osteoporosis

In addition to maintaining a healthy diet that contains a healthy level of calcium, it is also very important to stay active and preform regular weight bearing exercises. Exercise is important because it is required to get the body to absorb calcium. The body responds to exercise by increasing the calcium content in the bones, which results in them growing stronger.

Many seniors enjoy preforming water aerobics, which offer a low impact way to exercise, using simple water weights. Many pools, senior activity centers, and YMCAs offer a water aerobics program. While water aerobics can be a great way to stay active, it is important to remember that swimming by itself is not a weight bearing exercise.

Walking is also a great way to exercise, with doctors recommending that women walk at least 4 miles a week to help reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis and Post-Menopause Women

While regular weight bearing exercise and a healthy diet, which includes the required amount of daily calcium is important for reducing the risk of osteoporosis, this is often not enough for women. This is because in post-menopause women, estrogen and progestin levels begin to drop, which affects calcium absorption.

Some doctors recommend taking supplemental estrogen, as this has been shown to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. However, there have also been some studies that show that taking supplemental estrogen after menopause can increase the risk for endometrial cancer, which is cancer of the uterus.

Taking supplemental progestin, which is another option for females, has also been shown to carry health risks, such as increased risk for stroke, cancer, and heart disease. As a result, it is extremely important to speak with a doctor before beginning any estrogen or progestin treatment.

As an alternative to supplemental estrogen, calcitonin treatment is available. Calcitonin has actually been shown to help rebuild some bones, as well as slowing the loss of bone density, but is has typically been very cost prohibitive. It is also necessary for the individual to inject the calcitonin, which may be difficult for some seniors.

Biphosphonates are another option, which slightly increase bone density. However, originally given continuously, biphosphonates loose their effect, so it is necessary to cycle between the different kinds of biphosphonates, including etidronate and clordronate. Now, doctors have developed a new type of biphosphonate, which can be taken continuously.

Vitamin D is also very important and can help prevent the effects of osteoporosis. Vitamin D can be absorbed from sunlight and many foods, although for those who spend a great deal of time indoors, it is a good idea to take a vitamin that contains vitamin D.

Reducing the Risk of Falls

While there are a number of treatments to help prevent the spread of osteoporosis, the damage can not typically be reversed and in some cases can not be stopped from spreading. So, for seniors it is also very important to reduce the risk of a fall. This is because even a very small low impact fall can cause bones with low bone density to break.

For seniors, there are a number of steps that should be taken to help prevent falls, such as:

  • Ensuring the staircase is in good repair and has sturdy easy to grab handrails.
  • Remove rugs that are not secured to the ground, as the corners of these rugs can turn up, increasing the risk of a fall.
  • It is also important to pay attention to curbs, steps, and changes in terrain, which can increase the risk of falling.
  • Ensure that wires, such as the cord to the telephone, are out of the way, to avoid a tripping hazard.
  • When trying to reach items on shelves, ensure that you are using a proper step stool, which is well made, and always avoid standing on chairs.
  • Wear shoes that fit well and have a good non-skid sole.
  • For those who have difficulty walking, a cane, walker, or rollater should be used, both at home and away.
  • Even those that do not require a walker or cane for everyday use, consider getting one for use at night.
  • The bathroom can be very dangerous, due to the numerous hard surfaces, such as the toilet and counter, which are in a small enclosed space. The risk of falling is subsequently greatly increased when water is introduced, so ensure that there are non-skid bathmats used both in the bathtub itself, as well as on the floor.
  • Those that have poor balance or are otherwise unsteady, should invest in a shower chair or bath lift, as well as ensuring that there are adequate hand holds in the shower.
  • Make certain that light switches are conveniently located at both the top and bottom of the stairs, and are easy to reach and use. With light switches at both ends of the staircase, there should never be a case where the senior has to climb the stairs in the dark.

Osteoporosis can be very serious, not because it directly causes an increase in pain, but because the resulting bone density losses greatly increase the risk of fractures, which can be very painful and result in greatly reduced mobility. So, it is important to preform daily weight bearing exercises, maintain a healthy daily calcium intake, and help reduce the risk of falls.

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